Prefrontal cortex lesions and sex differences in fear extinction and perseveration

Sarah E. Baran, Charles E. Armstrong, Danielle C. Niren, Cheryl Conrad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Electrolytic lesions of the medial prefrontal cortex (PFCX) were examined using fear conditioning to assess the recall of fear extinction and performance in the Y-maze, open field, and object location/recognition in male and female Sprague-Dawley rats. Rats were conditioned to seven tone/footshocks, followed by extinction after 1-h and 24-h delays, revealing PFCX effects and sex differences during all phases of fear conditioning. In male rats, PFCX impaired 24-h recall of fear extinction to tone, which required the 1-h delay extinction and was not attributed to nonassociative factors. In contrast, sham and PFCX females increased freezing to tone following a 24-h delay, whether or not 1-h delay tone extinction was presented. Moreover, PFCX females failed to extinguish to tone, contrasting to the robust extinction to tone that was observed for sham females, PFCX, and sham males. Also, sex differences were found during acquisition, with sham females acquiring fear conditioning slower than PFCX females. By the last tone-shock presentation, sham and PFCX females showed a slight but significant reduction in freezing to tone relative to those of sham and PFCX males. Of the other behavioral measures, PFCX females maintained exploration of a novel object during object recognition when sham females habituated. PFCX did not influence other behaviors in the remaining tasks. These findings show important sex differences in PFC function, with the PFC influencing the recall of fear extinction in males and contributing to the acquisition and maintenance of fear extinction memory in females, perhaps through altering perseveration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-278
Number of pages12
JournalLearning and Memory
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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